“Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends/super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.” It looks like Frank Ocean went from rapping about rich kids to becoming one himself. After 4 years of near total silence, Frank quietly dropped Blonde, preceded only by the artsy live stream/visual album (whatever that is) Endless. I would chalk this up to a marketing ploy if it wasn’t so tremendously dull (it was an artsy live stream where you could watch Frank watch paint dry) and released just a day before Blonde dropped. The soundtrack to this ostensible critique of promotional campaigns is good, and Blonde is even better. Not that anyone doubted this would be the case – Frank Ocean has achieved near-messianic status as an RnB/pop icon in the years since his last studio offering.
It’s fitting, then, that he went from story teller to being the story. The now prescient singles ‘Sweet Life’ and ‘Super Rich Kids’ seem less like critiques of the disillusioned upper class than messages from a future version of Frank – you’ve made it dude, but you still ain’t too happy. “Why see the world when you’ve got the beach” has evolved into “Rolling marijuana that’s a cheap vacation.” One is a sardonic, tongue in cheek quip, the other is a sighing affirmation to himself. Frank is all grown up, and he’s turning the spotlight inward this time.
I can imagine many people saying the most daring thing about this album is the production, but that’s only the case if you were expecting Channel Orange 2.0, which many probably were. That’s not to say the production on this isn’t utterly brilliant, and it is pretty out there for a pop record. In fact, half the album doesn’t even have percussion, and there’s nothing but airy guitars and hazy synths for the most part. So if you consider quasi-ambient music to be experimental then this’ll knock your socks off.
One thing I’m not too sold on, though, is the use of chipmunked vocals, which pop up more than I’d like. It works sometimes, and yeah, I get that it shows different aspects of Franks personality, (duality is a major theme here – “I got twoooo versions”) but that doesn’t stop it sounding like a malfunctioning robotic toy half the time. Despite these temporarily distracting flaws, the main star here – and the truly daring aspect – is Frank’s voice and lyrics.
Blonde may not have the immediately catchy hooks of Channel Orange, but in their place we are presented with an artist much more comfortable and confident with both his place in music and his identity. This gives rise to some of the most heartfelt, revealing lyrics to come out of a pop act in years. Not to mention that this is an album of love & loss told from the perspective of a bisexual man, and no one is up in arms about that fact. Frank received plenty of support after coming out, but there was no shortage of dissenters either. Just look at all the pointless speculation over ‘Thinkin Bout You’ being addressed to a man or not, as if that should matter. And it no longer does, because Frank has sure shut them up with this one.
Blonde is available now via Boys Don’t Cry